A peek inside the brain of puppers and doggos

friendly friday friendly dog meme

If you’ve owned dogs and served cats, as I have, watching them closely can give you a peek inside their noggins.

There’s a great book by Jared Diamond—GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL—that drops serious knowledge about the kittehs and doggos, and yes, that book is all about the rise and fall of civilizations around the world, so why would he bother with house pets?

Here’s why:

(1) Diamond says you can figure out which civilizations struggled and which turned into mighty empires with a simple trick: count how many plants and animals they could domesticate.

(2) That’s because you can’t have permanent villages and cities, much less an empire, if you’re stuck roaming around as hunter-gatherer. Tough life, carrying everything that you own, especially without a horse to haul it around. You have to be able to grow wheat and herds of goats and such to settle down and have villages, then cities, then science and tiny supercomputers that allow a single human to send Candy Crush spam to all of their Facebook friends.

(3) The only animals that can truly be domesticated are ones that naturally travel in packs or herds, because only those animals understand how to be social. In other words, animals with some natural manners. Other animals might be sort of tamed, but never truly domesticated.

(4) Doggos live in packs and are totes social.

(5) Cats are solitary hunters and brutal killers. Seriously. Yes, even the ones that look like this:

The kitteh is surprised
Surprise Kitteh is surprised.

Back when The Discovery channel did science instead of reality shows about pawn shops and such, there was a Top 10 Predators episode. You had the great white shark, polar bears, lions, tigers, Kevin Spacey, you know, the usual suspects.

Number 1? House cats. Even if well fed, they’ll run around killing scads of birds, mice and whatever else they can, just for fun. They are furry little Sith Lords.

So why are puppers and doggos so different?

I’ve watched our Hound of the Baskervilles from when he was about one year old and have gotten a good look inside his head.

Mystery Number 1: Why do dogs HATE the mailman?

This seems to be such a cliché, an urban legend. The kind of thing that could get traced back to an off-hand line on I LOVE LUCY that just took off in pop culture and never died off.

Except there are good reasons for dogs to hate mail carriers and delivery folks.

Since we live on a dead-end road with few neighbors, there are two distinct types of people driving by: folks who live here and visitors.

The Hound doesn’t bark once when he hears the cars of people who live here. Doesn’t even look up—he knows the sound of each engine, though he’ll head for the door to greet family members when he hears their car start up the hill.

Random visitors might get barked at, but to him, they heed that warning and keep on driving past to their destination. They don’t stop at our house or show back up again tomorrow.

Delivery folks do.

To the dog, the FedEx folks show up all the time and the post office people come by every flipping day, ignoring all his barked warnings.

Even worse: the mailman is the only person to stop at the corner of our property for a long time. I believe, deep in my soul, the Hound thinks the mailman is peeing on our mailbox. Because that’s what a dog would do: mark territory.

It doesn’t matter who’s wearing the uniform and driving the delivery truck. To doggos, those are the colors of an invading army, and each person wearing them and stopping at the mailbox is sending a clear message: “Your home is now my territory, and so are the homes of all your neighbors and friends. Your warning barks don’t frighten me. I’ll be back tomorrow to pee on the mailbox and claim your home as mine. Do something about it, tough guy.”

Mystery Number 2:  What do dogs think of cats?

Back when we had three cats, the Hound couldn’t figure them out.

He understood the rules: don’t go upstairs, don’t go in the dining room and stay off the couches. We trained him to do things and when he did them, he got rewarded with treats or affection. That’s the system.

Cats don’t listen. They don’t care about your stupid rules or wishes.

To help train the doggo, we have him sit in another room when food goes in his bowl. And it might be a few minutes before we tell him OK, go eat. He sits at attention, no problem. It’s like he’s in the army. He enjoys clear rules and learning new tricks.

There’s no way any of our cats would ever sit and wait for food, not even if you offered them treats and love.

Quite the opposite. Whenever they were hungry, they made sure you knew it. Joy the White (kinda like Gandalf the Grey but after fighting that demon thing) would go further. If she was pissed off, she’d make it literal by stalking into the room to glare at you while she peed in a corner, just to show she was upset about her food bowl being empty or some such thing.

To the Hound, the cats were unpredictable and immature little furballs with no brains or social skills.

If he saw one of them breaking the rules, like walking into the dining room, he’d police them, gently nosing them back into the kitchen. Trying to get them in line. It wasn’t aggressive, like he was the boss. It was incredulous. “Are you crazy? Don’t offend the Tall Wizards Who Control Light and Dark, because we have a good thing going here: warm house, soft beds, fresh food and their protection. Why are you trying to screw that up?”

This isn’t a question of brains. Cats are plenty intelligent and with a lot of effort, some people have trained them. With zero effort, you can watch them do clever things and get into all kinds of trouble. Like experimenting with gravity.

Dogs are pack animals and wired differently. Puppers simply don’t understand why the Tiny Furballs with Needle Claws have no social manners and refuse to learn things from the Tall Wizards, especially when the reward for learning things is yummies and love.

Mystery Number 3: The on-off Switch of Guard Dogginess

The Hound sees it as his job to (a) alert us when strangers or delivery people are outside, and (b) to guard the door.

This is fine normally. When we have a lot of people over, though, it can be a hassle and a mystery–because once people are in the kitchen or dining room, there might be 15 people there he doesn’t know, and he won’t bark at a single one. his tail and happily gets petted all night.

A similar thing happens the Hound hits the kennel: the kennel owners always let dogs out into a fenced area separated from the main run. Every time, the new dog goes to the fence to touch noses with all the other dogs, then they let that new dog into the main area with tiny terriers and Great Danes, with zero problems. They all play together.

Except none of that works when the dog can still see their owner. They’ll bark at the other dogs and do not get along. The Switch of Guard Dogginess going from OFF to ON. Back on duty.

I took this idea home and started putting the Hound in the library when guests push the doorbell. Mystery solved: if people are at the door, he’s on duty. Once people are past the foyer and in the kitchen or dining room, I let him out and everything’s great.

In his doggy brain, he’s thinking something like this: “Clearly, the Tall Wizards let all these people deep inside to our most sacred room, where we store all the food. So they’re friends. Friends who brought us MORE food as tribute. I have never smelled so many good things! Our pack is popular, which means our territory and power is growing. The mailman dares not challenge us now.”


For serious dog knowledge, here’s some pretty good stuff on dog body language.

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 2—Lone Wolf in a Bunker vs Nimble Nomad with Friends

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

If you watch apocalyptic movies or TV shows, there are three kinds of people after the zombies show up or a giant angry space rock smashes into North America:

  1. Unprepared people who get nom-nom-nommed by the zombies in the first sixteen hours;
  2. Heroes who are nimble nomads, wandering the wasteland as they grow a scruffy beard, reluctantly help the helpless and say a grand total of five lines of dialogue; and
  3. Lone Wolfs who built backyard bunkers packed to the gills with MRE’s and AK-47’s.

It feels comforting to think you can hop out the back door and duck into a safe, secure bunker. Yet there’s a crazy amount of trouble with this Lone Wolf in a Bunker theory of survival, and a completely separate crazy amount of reasons why Nimble Nomad with Friends is a better option.

Fatal flaws lurking inside the concept of Lone Wolf in a Bunker

The price tag. Entire reality shows are dedicated to companies that build giant, custom-made bunkers which cost as much as a house. These bunkers have living rooms with televisions and couches, full bathrooms, kitchens, generators to provide electricity and enough fresh water and food to last six months.

Most people don’t have a spare $100,000 to $300,000 to spend on something like this. Even if you go cheap and snag a free shipping container, then spend every weekend welding and fixing it up, any true bunker will take a real investment.

We’re aiming for cheap here, in both time and money, and a bunker is neither.

When things go radically wrong, you may be nowhere near the bunker. Most people spend their waking hours driving to the job, doing the job, or driving home from that job. If you’re a working mom or dad like me, you also have soccer games and All the Things.

Also, many people travel for work, or even hop on aeroplanes to take these things called vacations. I have heard of them.

Bottom line, you can’t predict what sort of natural disaster or apocalypse will strike, and you can’t predict when it will happen.

So even if you build the perfect bunker for cheap, there’s just a good chance you’ll be 40 miles away, compiling TPM reports. Think the traffic is bad when you’re driving to work? Wait until the zombies get started or the giant asteroid hits. Hope your neighbors enjoy all those MRE’s you carefully collected.

Six months is not enough. Say you have the money to spend on a fully equipped and stocked bunker with six months of food, water and fuel for your generator. Assume that nobody finds you bunker for six entire months and you don’t need to venture out for fresh food, water, medicine or supplies. Great. When those six months are done, so are you. Because you are fresh out of fuel, water and munchies. Which means you have to head outside of that comfy bunker to the cold, cruel, nasty world, and that’s a tough adjustment after lounging around in watching John Wick on a 84″ television.

Your secret bunker is not so secret. Say you have the cash and time to build a backyard bunker. Say you’re sleeping at home when things go south. Bam, you hustle right into that bunker, close the hatch and everything’s good, right?


The neighbors and everyone else in town are now wandering the streets, and you can bet that (a) 99.9 percent of them did not built a backyard bunker and (b) they all remember Jimmy, the dude up the street who’s into Mad Max movies and actually brought a backhoe to dig up his backyard and install a bunker full of food and guns. Except you’re Jimmy, and they know exactly where you live.

You can’t Rambo your way out of this. When your neighbors do knock on your hatch, or the six months of food and water run out, sure, it completely makes sense to have weapons for self-defense and hunting. Absolutely.

Yet the Lone Wolf theory runs into trouble once you’re up against the hungry masses. Even if you have the best gear and guns in the world, and the training to go with them, you can’t hold out against persistent numbers. You will run out of ammo—and even Rambo has to sleep sometime. The hungry masses will win.

Advantages of a Nimble Nomad with Friends

Food, water and supplies. There is this thing called Seasons, with all the birds and animals migrating north and south to chase the sun and the food when the weather turns and frozen water falls from the sky.

For bazillions of years, our ancestors were nomads who migrated along with the sun and the best food sources. They only took what they could carry. That’s our model.

Read the brilliant GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL by Jared Diamond, who explains how permanent villages and civilizations didn’t really happen until people domesticated plants and animals. Making a permanent civilization, though, requires a lot of people who specialize in different things.

A more practical strategy is copying what worked for our nomadic ancestors for eons: migrate in search of the easiest food, water and supplies. Because winter will be a killer. Let’s avoid that if possible.

What this truly means: A big part of our fitness regimen has to be (a) hiking far, (b) through all sort of terrain, while (c) carrying all that we own.

In sickness and in health. You won’t suddenly become immune to disease after the zombies or aliens show up.

A cold or flu is guaranteed, and instead of taking a few days off work, a Lone Wolf will have to take a few days off, which could easily be fatal unless you have a friend or three to nurse you back to health.

The same thing is true of getting injured, whether it’s while hunting, fighting or simply foraging. There’s an old saying: “The loser of a knife fight dies in the street. The winner dies in the hospital.” It’ll be ten times worse in whatever flavor of apocalypse you favor, because without doctors and modern medicine, a simple scratch or cut could lead to a nasty infection or gangrene.

Same thing with spraining your ankle or breaking a bone: no big deal today, but fatal if you’re a Lone Wolf.

What this truly means: Unless you have the healing factor of Wolverine, you’ll need friends.

Teamwork makes the dream work. Even if you buy into the notion that training and firepower is all that matters, six average people with a motley collection of weapons will beat the next coming of Bruce Lee, mostly because only in the movies to people circle a hero and wait their turn to fight him one-on-one. No. We will shoot such a man from far away with a crossbow, stab him from semi-far away with a spear and, if he’s still sort-of moving, let the wolves chew on the body until we decide he’s truly dead and move on.

It’s a myth that training turns you into an invincible fighting machine who can’t miss whenever you pull the trigger. Another myth: tons of talent and training lets you take on armies of people with guns and knives with your bare fists. Also, you should never, never stroll away from an explosion. Dive behind something, genius. Take cover.

Having friends also makes it easier to hunt as a pack, create shelters and tools as a group and divide up the labor. A Lone Wolf has to sleep sometime, which means he’s super vulnerable eight hours a day, every day. A group of Nimble Nomads can always have somebody on watch while you rest up. That’s invaluable.

Friends also matter when it comes to skills and gear. One person can’t possibly train in every valuable skill and carry all the useful items on the planet. No backpack is that big. For every friend you add, that’s a person with special skills you don’t need to have and special equipment you don’t need to carry, like bolt cutters. And wouldn’t it be great if you had one person who was a nurse or doctor, one person who knew how to hunt and fish, then another person who was a wizard when it came to patching up clothes and hiking boots?

What this truly means: Figure out what friends and family you’d want to take along. Plan as a group, which could mean something as simple as taking group hikes, then long hikes with backpacks. Then a long hike with backpacks ending with a camping trip.

Minimum prep for maximum results

This series is mostly a fun thought exercise, but it’s also a smart alternative for everyday people.

How can you get max results with minimum effort and money, even if the worst happened?

Our role model here is Bear Grylls, who parachutes into insanely tough environments with only the clothes on his back and a knife. He crosses rough terrain, makes shelter anywhere and lives off the land.


Bear doesn’t have giant muscles or fancy gear. All he carries is that knife, which doesn’t look fancy or magical at all.

Instead, he has practical fitness and skills. While he’s in good shape, he brings random celebrities onto a new show, people who aren’t in great shape and know nothing about survival. But they make it.

The finest piece of gear Bear owns is something that can never be lost or stolen. Because it’s between his ears.

Here’s the best part is this style of preparation: it’s cheap, fast and works for people of all ages.

Plus you can teach others how to do it, and turn a band of random people into a skilled pack of stealthy rangers, though we are talking about unpowered rangers. No neon suits or robot dinosaurs.

The Laws of Survival

There are three legs to your rugged and primitive Survival Stool, which is made out of knotty pine and not sanded down one bit.

Those three legs are Fitness, Skills and Gear.

So what are our goals for each leg?

Leg # 1: Fitness

You don’t need giant gym muscles or 4 percent body fat. What you need is basic, practical fitness to climb walls, carry food or supplies, hike for miles and sprint short distances.

Whatever ideas show up here can’t only apply to 26-year-olds who used to be Navy Seals.

These tips need to apply to all ages, all genders and all fitness levels.

And the exercises here can’t (a) require any equipment, (b) take hours and hours or (c) be intricate or complicated.

They need to be sustainable, the kind of stuff you can do in the middle of a forest or in a tiny prison cell with alien zombie guards right outside.

Leg # 2: Skills

Skills apply whether you have a backpack of gear, an entire Home Depot to loot or nothing but the clothes on your back.

Primary skills include (a) making fire from scratch a dozen different ways, (b) building a shelter whether you’re in icy mountains, the desert or the woods, (c) hunting, gathering and scavenging, (d) hiding and camouflage, plus (e) parkour and evasion.

Secondary skills are (f) fighting only when you have to and (e) patching up other humans and your gear. Why secondary? Because camo, parkour and evasion are a much better option than turning every encounter into a death match. You’ll want to avoid fights whenever possible.

Say you win 7 out of 10 fights, by luck or skill. Each battle will deplete your ammo, damage your weapons and expose you to injuries. Even if you win a fight with only have a few minor injuries, what seems minor today—broken bones, scratches and cuts—could turn fatal if you get infected, or if the wound makes it so you’re limping around intead of scampering and running.

The goal here is to thrive in any environment without anyone knowing you were there.

Leg # 3: Gear

Here’s where we give birth to The One Backpack Rule.

It’s easy to go overboard with gear, to start gathering supplies and wind up with a garage full of tents, sleeping bags, generators, flashlights, food, water, ammo and extra wool socks, because who thinks they can wear the same pair of stinky wool socks for years and years?

This is the thing: you can’t count on staying in the same spot for months or years. There’s no such thing as an impregnable fortress, a happy home for hundreds of pounds of gear, which also happens to be full of the food and supplies you’ll need forever.

You’ll have to go out there and fish, hunt, find blackberries and scrounge for supplies. And no matter how well you plan, cars and trucks will run out of fuel and break down.

You’ll be hoofing it. A lot.

The One Backpack Rule says the only gear you can gather is what fits in a backpack. That backpack can’t be overstuffed. It has to be light enough that you can hike with it, maybe for 20 hours straight, day after day.

It means this solitary backpack can’t be so heavy that you’re so overburdened that nobody has to fight you to the death to steal your supplies, because they just need to tip you over and grab what they want as you flail on the ground like a turtle who’s been flipped upside down.

The One Backpack can’t weigh you down. The lighter, the better.

And while you might start out with good, modern gear, eventually that stuff will wear out. Then you’ll have to switch to scavenged gear.

When scavenged gear gets hard to find, the last stage will be living off the land.

And that will take the most practice and skill of all.

Next week: Chapter 3—All the Ways of Getting Around